by Bethany Proffitt
Once upon a time, a girl met a boy.
The girl cared a lot about community service and about children. She found a club at her school that was all about community service and knew that was the club for her. The faculty advisor happened to be her cross-country coach and advised her to run for club treasurer, an uncontested position that he was anxious to fill. The first meeting she attended was the election meeting for officers for the following year. Another girl was running for president and desperately campaigning for votes at the door. The first girl, an acquaintance of the presidential hopeful’s younger sister, dutifully pledged her vote. As the meeting began, the presidential candidates gave their speeches. The opposing candidate, a boy who the girl had never seen before, gave a phenomenal speech, and the girl went back on her previous pledge to vote for her friend’s older sister because it was clear that this boy was the rightful president of this community service club.
The girl was elected treasurer and the boy was elected president. The club was Key Club, a high school version of Kiwanis International, and the girl was me. If you haven’t guessed yet, the boy, who was elected president that day, became my first boyfriend. We dated for 5 1/2 years and are about to celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary. We have four kids and are in the process of becoming a licensed foster family for the Cherokee tribe. Caring for foster children as high schoolers is part of our love story that has continued to be a shared passion of ours for the last 15 years.
With Key Club, we planned service projects to the Laura Dester Shelter, an emergency shelter used by the Department of Human Services (DHS) to house children removed from their homes while arrangements were made for foster care or kinship care. At the time the shelter was in the former Tulsa Boys Home facility at 6th and Peoria. My grandfather, David Owen, a former director of the Tulsa Boys Home, was responsible for the capital campaign that resulted in moving the Boys’ Home to its current facility in Sand Springs.
I was aware that the facilities were very old and that my grandfather, a generation before, had deemed the place unacceptable for the boys. Yet DHS was using the facility. As high schoolers, we were not allowed in the “Big Kid House” and spent our time volunteering to play with the kids housed in the “Little Kid House” after school. This was an old prefab building that was home to babies, toddlers, and preschoolers. We mostly played outside with the kids and they lit up when they saw us coming.
The days we went to the shelter were always impactful. The kids were normal kids, who just wanted to play. But we were aware that they, at no fault of their own, had been removed from their homes. The shelter was their temporary home. They would be sleeping there that night with strangers as their caregivers. There were always at least 20 kids in the little shelter when we visited. One time, there were two newborns picked up from the hospital by DHS caseworkers and placed in car seats at the Little House while the shelter workers prepared dinner for the rest of the kids.
I remember staring at those two babies and feeling every corner of my heart shatter. I thought, “What is wrong with this world?”
These babies belong in a loving family, not an impersonal, institutional, emergency shelter. I was 16, and I knew that I had to do something.
Our experiences volunteering at the shelter have made an impact on my husband and me. We have always known that someday we would foster. We continued to volunteer at the shelter as newlyweds. The shelter had moved to a new state-of-the-art facility, but it was still the same story. Kids, through no fault of their own, had been removed from their families. They were living in an institution with a rotating round-the-clock staff to care for them. They had their basic needs met but not their need for family and not their need for a secure attachment with a caregiver.
We stopped going to the shelter when our kids were young, but we continued to support foster care families by donating toys, clothes, and furniture. We organized skate parties and Christmas parties for the shelter kids with our Sunday school class and raised money for various gifts for the kids. Those were the small things that we could do and we hope they made a difference for some children. But having needs for food, clothes, and shelter met, can never be enough for a child displaced from a family, who maybe didn’t have a proper family to begin with.
As Christ followers who care deeply about children and want to make a real difference in the lives of kids in the foster care system, we knew that giving our old clothes to the donation center was never going to be enough.
We knew that, eventually, we would need to actually get in the system with these kids and walk this hard road with them.
The state of Oklahoma was forced to close shelters like the Laura Dester Center and now needs to recruit more foster families than ever before. We have decided that now is the time to start the journey that we always knew we would take. It’s a long story, with many twists, turns, and even dark nooks and crannies that have led us to today. We are nearly through the certification process to become a foster family with Cherokee Nation. We expect to be fully certified in the next couple of weeks and will then be waiting for a phone call about our first placement.
I think we think differently about foster care than most people. I hope to articulate my heart over this series of articles, but the short and simple truth is that every time my husband and I have discussed whether or not to foster, the very real fears and what ifs that we discuss as reasons not to foster can never stack up higher than the what ifs that we can only imagine for the children in foster care if families like ours don’t step up to take those risks and bravely open our hearts and homes to these precious children. We are fully trusting our Father to guide us and prepare us as we prepare our hearts and home for the children we hope to welcome into our family very soon.
Bethany Proffitt is the mother of four kids, two boys and two girls, and wife to Keith. They call south Tulsa home. Check out her other articles like, back to school shopping tips, the best Tulsa-area pumpkin patches, the best area splash pads, shopping carts and life lessons, and her family’s journey through a layoff.